Saturday, April 22, 2017

Showing and Telling : The JK Rowling Way

One of the most frequent writing advice we hear while setting about to write a story is the phrase ‘show don’t tell’.
What does that mean?

SHOWING makes the reader share the experience of the characters by evoking their senses making it a physical and emotional experience. The descriptions evoke the feelings of smell, touch, see and hear, and make the reader experience it together with the characters.
The Harry Potter books are mostly entirely 'show'. We the readers are there with Harry at every step of the way and we see what he sees. The reader experiences the terror, excitement, and happiness that come his way.


“I'm Draco Malfoy, I'm Draco, I'm on your side!"
Draco was on the upper landing, pleading with another masked Death Eater. Harry Stunned the Death Eater as they passed: Malfoy looked around, beaming, for his savior, and Ron punched him from under the cloak. Malfoy fell backward on top of the Death Eater, his mouth bleeding, utterly bemused.
"And that's the second time we've saved your life tonight, you two-faced bastard!" Ron yelled.”
~JK Rowling, Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

TELLING is the old-fashioned way of storytelling, where the reader gets told exactly where the characters are, and what's going on.  

Example: Harry felt, afterward, that he should have known it was all too good to last.

 Using dialogue is the easiest way to slip into the ‘Show’ mode because the dialogue is considered as action. While writing dialogues, the common rule is not to use adverbs in the dialogue tags. Like for example.

“Look near the tree at the center of the garden,” she said quietly. Here the adverb ‘quietly’ tells rather than show. In ‘On writing’ Stephen King asks the writer to use adverbs sparingly.

If you check the Harry Potter books, you can see that JK Rowling uses such adverbs frequently. I guess this is because the Harry Potter books were written for the children. The best way to tell a child that someone was speaking in a low voice is to tell them that she/he said quietly.

Even though she breaks the rule this way, she paints a magical world using the elaborate and evocative descriptions and shows the reader the magical world of wizards and witches.

Another technique JK Rowling uses in the Harry Potter books is the usage of a good telling topic sentence.

(A topic sentence is a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph which explains its main idea)

Example: The dungeon was, most unusually, already full of vapors and odd smells. (topic sentence)

~JK Rowling, Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Next, she explains this showing how Ron, Hermione and Harry experiences and reacts to these smells and vapors.
Example: They chose the table nearest a gold-colored cauldron that was emitting one of the most seductive scents Harry had ever inhaled: Somehow it reminded him simultaneously of treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow.

~JK Rowling, Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Throughout the books, JK Rowling uses this technique effectively by mixing Show and Tell techniques.

Do you follow the ‘Show, don’t tell’ rule religiously?

During this A-Z April Challenge, I am exploring the A-Z journey of writing a Novel with examples from Literature.

The Letter of the day is S

Linking this post  to Blogging from A-Z

Have you read the Letters A, B, C, D, EFGH  I  J K  L M N  O P Q and R?


  1. It's a great advice on story telling, Preethi and will save all our links that will help the narration and description.

  2. Its a wonderful example using Harry Potter !Loved the explaination of show and tell.Great going Preethi

  3. Loved the example of Harry Potter - the analysis is bang on!!

  4. First time reader on your blog, Preethi! I first jumped on to read this post, all because I saw the name JK Rowling in the title! I'm a huge Potterhead too!

    I completely agree that showing is better than telling. I'd rather have the author let me use my creative juices and imagine something the way I want to, instead of allowing the author to paint an unchangeable picture for me .

    1. High five Potterhead! Welcome to my blog.
      I agree. Showing is definitely better. Yet Telling also is needed. Otherwise the book will become too long and boring.

  5. So glad you wrote this post, Preethi and with the right examples as well. I call Show and Tell one of the golden rules of writing.
    Loved reading this!

    1. Indeed. It is one of the best rules to adopt in fiction writing.
      Thank you for reading, Mayuri.

  6. The 'show don't tell' rule is one of the most discussed in the writing community, I think. I agree that, generally speaking, showing is more effective than telling, in terms of readers' involvement. But sometime telling is better, for many reasons.
    Ultimatly, I think a good balance is what we should strive for.

    The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

    1. Yes, a good balance is what keeps the writing interesting. :)

  7. Very well written :) I think on the same lines while reading most of the books, including the HP series!